Teen Binge Drinking Can Do Long-term Brain
By Amy Norton
February 14, 2005
(Reuters Health) - Mounting evidence shows
that the still-maturing teenage brain is
particularly susceptible to damage from
heavy drinking, according to a report
A number of
recent studies have shown that teenagers
who abuse alcohol have problems with
memory, learning and other brain functions
compared with their peers, while animal
research suggests such effects could last
research, coming from a number of
scientific areas, is making it more and
more clear that the teenage brain is
particularly vulnerable to the damaging
effects of alcohol, according to Dr. Peter
M. Monti of Brown University in
Providence. Rhode Island.
organize a recent symposium of the
Research Society on Alcoholism held in
Vancouver, Canada. The new report,
published in the journal Alcohol: Clinical
and Experimental Research, summarizes
research presented at the meeting.
Some of the
findings come from research using
functional MRI to image brain activity in
teenagers with drinking problems and those
without. In one study, boys and girls with
alcohol use disorders -- which refers to
both alcohol abuse and alcohol dependence
-- showed greater brain activity than
other adolescents during a memory test,
though test scores were similar in both
pattern emerged when women ages 18 to 25
took the same test. Compared with others
their age, young women who'd had an
alcohol problem since adolescence showed
less brain activity during the memory task
and had a poorer performance.
according to the researchers, suggest that
in the early stages of an alcohol use
disorder, the brain may try to compensate
by "recruiting" additional neurons to
perform a given task. But if the drinking
continues into young adulthood, the damage
to brain cells may grow and become too
much for the brain to overcome.
research presented at the symposium
focused on the memory loss associated with
so-called blackouts. An "alarmingly" high
number of young drinkers, according to
researchers, have at times had so much to
drink that they could not remember what
they did during the binge. In one survey
of college students, half of those who
drank said they'd had at least one
blackout in their lives.
whether teenagers are more susceptible to
blackouts than adults are, but animal
research suggests that in adolescents, a
part of the brain involved in forming
memories may be particularly vulnerable to
the effects of alcohol.
a study of rats, researchers at the
University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill,
found that binge drinking damaged parts of
the adolescent brain that were left
unharmed in the adult rat brain.
researchers have also found evidence that
early drinking-induced brain damage could
be lasting. In one experiment, adult rats
that had been "binge-drinkers" as
adolescents showed differences in brain
structures that transport the chemical
serotonin, which is involved in such
essentials as mood regulation and memory.
research in rats does not necessarily
translate to humans, animal studies are
important in understanding the
consequences of teen drinking, Monti told
Reuters Health. For one thing, researchers
obviously cannot give alcohol to teenagers
and then see what happens to their brains.
In addition, Monti noted, studying
genetically altered rats, for instance,
can give insight into the genetic
underpinnings of alcohol abuse.
studies pointing to the harm done to the
brain by adolescent drinking, one of the
remaining challenges is getting kids to
care, according to Monti, whose own
research focuses on that issue. Drinking,
and the immediate effects that come with
it -- from blackouts to hangovers -- are
often viewed as part of growing up.
Monti said, "thinks others kids are
drinking more than they are."
research has shown that some teenagers
will respond to an anti-drinking message.
In a study of 18- and 19-year-olds whose
drinking had landed them in the emergency
room, Monti and his colleagues found that
a brief counseling session in the ER
helped cut patients' rates of drinking and
driving, as well as alcohol-related
Alcohol: Clinical and Experimental
Research, February 2005.